Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Apr

6 More Tea Ingredients That Can Help You Unwind, Relax and Chill Out

tea2Last week, I made the case for the inclusion of chill-out, relaxing, and otherwise anti-stress teas and herbs, particularly for the stress-wracked among us (and who doesn’t deal with significant amounts of stress?). Several readers on the last post made the comment that, while effective, these tea ingredients don’t necessarily please the palate. I believe one even used “feet” to describe the flavor and aroma of valerian tea. That may be true, but I’d argue that when your sanity, your testosterone:cortisol ratio, and your mental well-being are on the line, pharmacological efficacy of a particular herb supersedes any concerns regarding its flavor. Stress kills, and, well, we want to live – and live well.

With that said, let’s look at a few more options. With any luck, you’ll find at least a couple that you can stomach and perhaps even enjoy.

Ashwagandha

What is it?

Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is often said to be the granddaddy of Ayurvedic herbal medicines. It’s made from the roots of Withania somnifera, a member of the nightshade family, and usually comes in powder form. Roughly translated, ashwagandha means “smell of the horse” – a reference not only to its distinct odor but also to its purported health benefits (“strong like horse”).

History?

It seems ashwagandha has been used as a traditional medicine for around 4,000 years across India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, giving it a pretty substantial history of use.

What is it purported to do?

It’s billed as an adaptogen, or a substance that helps the body resist stress and maintain homeostasis in the face of it. By virtue of this stress-reducing effect, ashwagandha may help improve or mitigate other stress-related conditions, like insomnia, lack of libido/erection, and anxiety.

Does the research back that up?

For the most part, yes – ashwagandha appears to be the real deal.

Only problem, as I see it, is the horse thing.

Is it safe?

Yes. Although high doses can cause sedation to the point of sexual impairment, the LD50 (the dose at which 50% of test subjects die) is high enough to say it has “little or no associated toxicity.”

Where to find it?

Amazon.com has several options available, including both extracts and whole root powder.

Lemon Balm

What is it?

Lemon balm is a culinary and medicinal herb from the mint family. There are several different cultivars, including “citronella” and “lemonella.” Overall, lemon balm has a bit of a lemony minty scent that lends itself well to fish dishes.

History?

The ancient Greeks and Romans employed lemon balm as a medicinal herb, and it was catalogued in the Historia Plantarum as far back as 300 BC. Homer’s The Odyssey mentions “balm,” which scholars assume refers to lemon balm. Something to keep in mind, however much you admire the classic Hellenists: Jackie Chiles is adamantly against the unprescribed application of any and all balms, including lemon balm.

What is it purported to do?

Lemon balm has historically been used to reduce anxiety and lower stress, along with the associated symptoms. It also makes a pleasant tea.

Does the research back that up?

Yes, it appears to lower the negative effects of stress, reduce anxiety, and increase overall relaxation, as these studies suggest:

Is it safe?

I saw a couple references claiming that lemon balm is a bit goitrogenic and may even reduce thyroid hormone absorption, but I wasn’t able to substantiate that with any solid studies. Overall, it’s non-toxic, although some people may get contact dermatitis from the leaves (PDF).

Where to find it?

You can get lemon balm tea, lemon balm extract, or lemon balm leaf. All are effective.

Passion Flower

What is it?

A flowering vine that appears in most countries. With over 500 species, it’s a fairly successful plant. It produces lovely flowers, tasty passion fruit, and its roots and leaves are dried and used as medicines. Today, we’re most interested in the roots and leaves – the herb.

History?

The use of passion flower as a medicinal herb seems to date back to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Since then, it’s taken off in popularity across the world, with some varieties even possessing MAO-inhibiting properties that increase the bioactivity of certain psychoactive substances (the traditional visionary medicine ayahuasca, for example, requires a similar naturally-occurring MAO inhibitor to work).

What is it purported to do?

Since it contains myriad alkaloids, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, glycosides, and other bioactive plant compounds, it seems to do a lot. Foremost, though, is its ability to reduce anxiety and stress.

Does the research back that up?

Yes, several studies show efficacy:

Is it safe?

It’s generally safe, but it has been shown to interact poorly with anti-anxiety medications like Ativan. Don’t mix medicines – even herbal ones – without instruction from a professional.

Where to find it?

Passion flower tea, extract, and dried leaf are all widely available online.

Hops

What is it?

The female flowers (which kinda look like cones) of a species of hop.

History?

Hops are most famous for their role in beer brewing, where they provide stability and flavor. India pale ales, which were brewed to survive the long voyage to Asia, contained extra hops as a preservative – that’s why they’re so incredibly bitter. Hops seem to have originated in Asia, and medieval Germany was the site of the first European cultivation.

What is it purported to do?

It’s said to be a mild sleep aid, especially when combined with valerian.

Does the research back that up?

There are a few studies that support the claims:

Is it safe?

Hops themselves are safe, but drinking a twelve pack just “to get your hops in” might cause some health issues.

Where to find it?

You could drink beer (either alcoholic or non-alcoholic), particularly pale ales (or India pale ales), which contain the most hops, but also plenty of grain. Or, you could go for a hops extract or a hops tea.

Holy Basil

What is it?

Also known as tulsi, holy basil is another cherished Ayurvedic herb. It grows all over the eastern tropics as both a cultivated and wild plant.

History?

Ancient Hindu and Ayurvedic texts speak highly of holy basil. Thai restaurants (good, traditional ones) frequently employ it in their cooking.

What is it purported to do?

In Ayurvedic traditions, it’s said to promote general health, well-being, and longevity, but most modern usage is predicated on its supposed adaptogenic effects.

Does the research back that up?

What little evidence exists seems to:

  • Holy basil is effective in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, reducing the disorder itself as well as the concomitant stress and depression.
  • Extracts of holy basil have been shown to reduce cortisol, lower adrenal gland hypertrophy, and normalize stress-induced hyperglycemia in rodents.

Human research is very preliminary (bordering on non-existent), but Ayurvedic herbs seem to do pretty well once the studies are actually conducted. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be a strong adaptogen and ally in the fight against stress. For what it’s worth, it seems to be hepato-protective, too.

Is it safe?

The LD50 of the oil extract is 42.5 mL/kg.

Where to find it?

Amazon has holy basil tea, extracts, and dried leaves. My favorite way is to go eat some great Thai food, however. Look around for pad krapow moo – holy basil stir-fried pork. Bring a jar of coconut oil and they’ll probably even cook with it.

Siberian Ginseng

What is it?

It’s actually not a type of ginseng. Instead, it comes from a woody shrub that grows in Northeastern Asia (including, obviously, Siberia).

History?

Traditional Chinese medicine has used it for many centuries.

What is it purported to do?

While not a sedative by any means, Siberian ginseng apparently improves one’s resistance to stress and reduces the stress response. This can have an “energizing” effect, if stress is beating you down or causing fatigue (like in overtraining).

Does the research back that up?

For the most part, yes:

So, while Siberian ginseng isn’t going to sedate or necessarily chill you out, it will help you adapt to and resist the negative effects of stress – which do often manifest as anxiety or excitability. I know when I’m stressed out, I’m often wired.

Is it safe?

The LD50 is around 3 g/kg of the extract or 25 g/kg of the dry root (PDF). In other words, it’s quite safe.

Where to find it?

Siberian ginseng capsules work quite well, as does the bulk tea.

That’s it for this time, guys. I hope you’re able to stomach enough of these and other stress-reducing herbs to obtain all the benefits. Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know if I forgot anything!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. From last weeks article I purchased Kava Kava, Its fabulous for relaxing after a stressful day.

    Shirley wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • Kava Kava is great, if you don’t have pre existing liver damage (even in a small amount) which most american’s do. so their suggesting it less and less, more to people in healthy gene lines.

      Adam wrote on January 30th, 2014
  2. My experience with supplements leads me to believe that 90% are BS and 10% are indispensable.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • What are the 10% that are indispensable? I’m just curious because I pretty much have the same opinion on supplements and I take enzymes only.

      Anne wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • Yup. But those few… Skullcap is absolutely amazing for anxiety.

      Drude wrote on April 16th, 2013
  3. From last week’s I just went ahead and got some Primal Calm! So far, I have to say I certainly feel more chill about things and in a generally better frame of mind. So in my little N1 I’m running on it, so far the evidence comes back good. I’m going to continue taking it and noting any differences on days I forget it.

    Rhonda the Red wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • Let us know what you find! I was also thinking about doing that!

      Bjjcaveman wrote on April 16th, 2013
  4. Mark, or anyone. I assume Tea like herbs the fresher the better. Are any health properties left in your average tea bag from the grocery store?

    Great coconut oil advice, as someone who loves thai food (specifically Kra Pow). I occasionally eat it under the comfort of ignorance when deep down I suspect veggie oils are probably in the mix! Never thought about bringing my own coconut oil! But will have no problem being “that guy” who does!

    Luke wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • I’ve noted a huge difference between organic teas (herbal, black or green) and the average stuff at the grocery store.
      Thai traditionally cook with coconut oil (usually refined), palm oil, and pork fat or stocks. But I’m pretty sure that depending on the place they’ll now be using vegetable oils.

      Anne wrote on April 16th, 2013
  5. So beer is good for relieving stress. Good to know one of my cheat items becomes slightly less of a cheat. :)

    Andrew wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • I’ve read that beer, and hops, are estrogenic…not very good news for men unless you intention is to have man-boobs later on in life.

      Paul wrote on April 16th, 2013
      • Don’t forget about the man-belly it produces too!

        Nocona wrote on April 16th, 2013
      • Most of the man-boobs talk due to excess estrogen in hops is purely anecdotal. From NYU med:
        Beer does not appear to contain enough of the active phytoestrogen in hops, 8-prenyl naringenin, to matter.

        http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21755

        As a resident hop-head, I have no beer gut nor man-boobs to speak of.

        Josh wrote on April 16th, 2013
        • yeah this is the same nonsense with the supposed testosterone boost when you take pine pollen. these types of compounds are very ineffective in humans and will not cause man boobs or boosts in testosterone. the belly is a different story though….

          jake wrote on April 16th, 2013
        • Sure, could be anecdotal, you look fairly young from your photo,
          in my post I said that “later on in life” one will get man-boobs- maybe after the mid-forties. Anyway, I’ve got plenty of friends that will defend their beer to the end. Heck, my parents used to defend their cigarettes, claiming energy giving properties rather than give them up!

          Paul wrote on April 17th, 2013
    • Beer also makes you funnier, allows you to attempt feats of strength way past your limits, instantly become a better dancer, and improve your confidence to continue talking to women who have no interest in you!

      Luke wrote on April 16th, 2013
  6. Passion flower tea is one of my absolute all-time faves.

    I wrote a review with tasting notes, photos and more medical research if anyone’s curious

    http://supplementsos.com/herbal-tea/passion-flower-tea/

    Lena Zegher wrote on April 16th, 2013
  7. i bought some kava kava in kauai and just started taking it. i am pretty tolerant to bad tastes but this one…oof. it’s a bit of a struggle to get down and i’m not super keen on the numbing of the mouth but i always sleep like a baby when i take it!

    mel wrote on April 16th, 2013
  8. I have always struggled with anxiety and stress. Tulsi is amazing. Mix with peppermint, lavender or chamomile for an even more relaxing tea & better taste.

    Ashley wrote on April 16th, 2013
  9. Dried hops flowers in a pillowcase are supposedly good for inducing sleep, and they do smell lovely.

    But the best way to treat anxiety and stress is to get out and move around. Take a long walk; work in the garden; lift, pull, dig, rake, sweep, haul.

    Helga wrote on April 16th, 2013
  10. We always have our little container of Holy Basil growing on the front porch. Just pick a few leaves and steep.

    Nocona wrote on April 16th, 2013
  11. Another good list by Mark. At night I take a formula with standardized Ashwagandha, l-theanine and magnolia bark. I typically do not take Ginseng (Siberian or Panax) it’s a little harsh on my system for some reason. For energy and stamina in the morning I take rhodiola rosea or cordyceps sinensis (alternate each on a roughly one month cycle). I have been studying nutritional supplementation for something like 35 years, fascinating subject. Eliminated my MVP(mitral valve prolapse) from years ago by taking CoQ10, my bad sinus problems have been greatly helped with daily quercetin supplementation, and so on. Of course a great diet, exercise / play time program, sleep habits and stress reduction activities are the core things you need to do, but selective SUPPLEMENTATION if your budget permits can be a godsend in some cases.

    George wrote on April 16th, 2013
  12. A warning about lemon balm: If you plant it this year, next year you will find it EVERYWHERE. It spreads by seeds AND roots. I can’t get rid of it now. And yes, it does make a lovely tea. I also chop a few leaves in salads.

    Ellen wrote on April 16th, 2013
  13. thanks for including lemon balm, passion flower and holy basil! these are three that I use quite often, can grow myself and have minimal to no known malicious side effects. they are quite calming, I love holy basil a.k.a tusli tea on particularly stressful days and lemon balm is nightly, just before bed. passion flower is great for if I REALLY need to chill out, a tincture of this is powerful stuff.

    jessica wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • forgot to mention hops, people use caution with this! it can cause allergic reactions.

      jessica wrote on April 16th, 2013
  14. two great resources for organic, non irradiated bulk herbs = frontier food co-op and mountain rose herbs.

    jessica wrote on April 16th, 2013
  15. About 8 months ago, my thyroid went hyper again (high T4 and T3, low TSH) and I was able to get it to come down to normal ranges taking Lemon Balm and Buggleweed instead of the using the pharmaceutical drug that I had to use the first time. This was per my practitioners advice (not an endocrinologist).

    Allie wrote on April 16th, 2013
  16. A few notes to add:
    - Ashwagana doesn’t usually have an immediate effect. It tends to build strength and energy during the day and restful sleep at night after a couple of weeks of regular does. The dried herb or tincture works great.
    - Lemon Balm is used to treat hyperthyroid so consequently don’t drink it regularly if you have low thyroid. It’s delicious as a fresh tea. It’s also very effective (just not as yummy) in its dried form. It’s great as a glycerine tincture for kids. It helps with kids that won’t stay in bed, are timid or have frequent tantrums.
    - Holy Basil is especially helpful if your adrenal cycle is off. If you wake up at 3 or 4 am regularly, tired in the afternoon/evening but you are wide awake just before bedtime then take some holy basil regularly. You should notice improvement in a week or so.

    Jen wrote on April 16th, 2013
  17. Mark, thank you for all the great suggestions.
    I did take Ashwagana a while back for low adrenals and like you said it did take a few weeks to kick in. I was extra tired in the afternoons for a week or two (like I could take a nap). Then it kicked in this tiredness went away. I was told by my practitioner this was normal. I also used Siberian Ginseng for low adrenal function also. Both worked well but I think I preferred the Ashwagana.

    Allie wrote on April 16th, 2013
  18. I read your last article that included Kava Kava… I have been hesitant to try it as I do have liver problems and I know Kava Kava can have a negative effect… But I would like to try it for its relaxation benefits. Do you think I could try it?

    GiGi wrote on April 16th, 2013
  19. Hey!, i know this is probably unrelated to this post, but i have a really bothering question on weigh gain. this is the 4th week since i have been on a low carb diet (fruits, vegetables, and protein with little or no carbs), i exercise sometimes for about 30 mins in the morning (i am very busy, so i barely have time). I have been quite strict with the diet, following it through and all. I have since been losing weight until about 1 week ago, when i started gaining weight again. My clothes are now getting tighter. What could be the cause. What can i do differently, i am getting somewhat discouraged, and am tempted to go back to my old way of eating.

    Janie wrote on April 16th, 2013
    • Fruits and vegetables also contain carbs, especially fruit. The ideal range for “effortless weight loss” is 50-100g carbs per day. I would suggest you use a nutrition calculator for a bit to get a good idea of just how many carbs you are actually ingesting on a daily basis. If you are eating a lot of fruit and veg, chances are you are getting way more than 100g. Other issues could be excessive protein (which can be an issue for people with damaged metabolisms), stress and/or inadequate sleep.

      M. wrote on April 17th, 2013
  20. I have it on good authority that Ginger Tulsi tea tastes lovely and is very good, but I haven’t yet tried it myself. I see that Amazon sell it.

    Christine wrote on April 17th, 2013
  21. Some of these things are pretty hard to come by.Where,for instance,am I going to start looking for some ashwagandha which I bet is just a strong aphrodisiac?Can bet my money 110% on that!What is as strong as a horse that doesn’t stimulate sexual desire as much as the top

    Marshall Mathers wrote on April 17th, 2013
  22. I’m looking forward to hunting down some of these teas. Just wondering if you considered marijuana as an option to relax. I know it’s illegal in most places but I’m sure you have readers in places where it is legal. I would assume smoking would be bad for the lungs but I believe that vaporizing would do minimal damage and can be very relaxing.

    Dan wrote on April 17th, 2013
  23. Is it really work? I gonna check it out. Don’t you think a hypnotist can help us about release stress?

    Roni R. wrote on April 17th, 2013
  24. My wife bought some lemon balm at PCC in liquid form with a syringe. I can attest to the fact that it is very relaxing. I only use it before bed because I would probably fall asleep at my desk at work.

    Drew wrote on April 17th, 2013
    • whats pcc mean?

      TerriAnn wrote on April 17th, 2013
  25. Having to decide which of these herbs to take is causing me a great deal of stress. I do have what is essentially an endless supply of lemon balm in my back yard, however.

    Michael Day wrote on April 17th, 2013
  26. You missed a couple of easy but great ones. I use a combination of Catnip and Mint tea before bed at night. It’s a mild sedative and muscle relaxant that works well for taking the edge off of my Fibromyalgia pain and my husbands “I’ve had 7 knee surgeries and I’ve been crawling all over aircraft for 10 hours” pain. It’s also very relaxing and tastes great. When we moved into the new house, these are the first two herbs I planted!

    MJClark wrote on April 17th, 2013
  27. I’m looking forward to part three of this series: Sixty Ingredients to Help you Unwind Relax, and Chill Out.
    Ginseng, sherry, honey, cacao help with endurance travel.

    Animanarchy wrote on April 17th, 2013
    • I used a lot of St. John’s wort last night and rhodiola because I was having trouble sleeping and managing stress. I’m not sure how much of an effect they had but when I finally had sporadic sleep for a couple hours it seemed of good quality and my dreams were very vivid or captivating (even though somewhat unpleasant) and when I woke temporarily I felt very pleasantly relaxed before falling back asleep.
      I had to wake up entirely finally earlier than I wanted to because of where I was sleeping but I’m going to experiment more with these two herbs and sleep, particularly the St. John’s wort. I’m also going to take a bunch of it this afternoon with a little more rhodiola than the bottle recommends and see what effect it has on me. Maybe I’ll have a third piece of dark chocolate too.
      I’ve been turning to alcohol too much to obliterate stress and it’s consistently having a negative effect on my life so I’m seeking safer soothing alternatives. Turns out I’m a reprehensible, crude turd and/or lunatic when I’m blacked out by ethanol. I’ve learned of a number of things I’ve done that I do not want to write about here, and for those who are familiar with some of my more devious deeds, trust that what remains unsaid is far worse than what I’ve confessed to, morality wise, even if no serious harm was done (except to my reputation).

      Animanarchy wrote on March 26th, 2014
      • A few more things I learned seemed almost to redeem me but I gather I was still crazy. I hereby renounce black-out drinking!
        But on to the experiment…
        I went and climbed a tree. I was tired but had the urge so I picked a tall pine and climbed near the top. It seems rhodiola, St. John’s wort, and dark chocolate influence me positively. Before now I haven’t climbed a tree in months.

        Animanarchy wrote on March 26th, 2014
  28. Love this series. Looking forward to trying out some of the Holy Basil extract I bought a while ago for (of all things) a recipe for organic dog biscuits.

    Maybe I’ll put a drop or two in with the tumeric water I drink (1/4 tsp of tumeric powder, mixed with about 6 oz water – very soothing to the tummy). It’s my way of having tumeric tea with no carbs (i.e. no honey, no coconut milk). Tastes awful by the way, soI may as well make it taste even worse via the Holy Basil. :-)

    In the last post, I learned about Valerian tea and tried it out. Yes indeed it does help with sleep. Yippeeee! Thanks for that.

    Susan Alexander wrote on April 17th, 2013
  29. I love valerian, but i read in.large doses, cause liver problems? I take 500mg capsule 3 times a week. Invaluable for irregular heartbeat and anxiety. Any thoughts?

    jacquie wrote on April 17th, 2013
  30. Somewhere in the middle east there’s an herb called kat that people chew on. It’s said to be like a strong cup of coffee without the jitters.

    Animanarchy wrote on April 20th, 2013
  31. Lemon balm and passion flower sound delectable…

    Mark P wrote on April 20th, 2013
  32. I m suffering from anxiety now a days and looking for herbal treatment, i searched many herbs but how and where to find them in market ? By what name?
    Can any one kindly reply me with common name of following in Pakistan.
    Passion flower, Hops,Ginseng, Holy Basil ,Kava Kava

    Akhtar wrote on November 20th, 2013
  33. I’ve dealt with varying degrees of Anxiety since 2006, from full-blown panic attacks to more generalized anxiety. Recently I’ve found that good Chamomile tea almost instantly relieves my anxiety symptoms and keeps them at bay for about a couple hours. There are also some companies that mix Chamomile, Passionflower, and Hops- and I’ve had great success with those as well.

    Anthony wrote on January 26th, 2014

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple